In the world of rock music and its fandom, people can generally look to an artist or band as their moment when lightning struck them in which that artist becomes the most important thing in that person’s life. With Baby Boomers, most can remember where they were when they saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. For that generation, it was an atomic bomb moment for many of them, with millions going out the next day to buy musical instruments or Beatles records.
In the early Eighties, young Gen X-ers can remember the moment when Michael Jackson moonwalked his way into the public’s consciousness on the ABC-TV show Motown 25. Then, in the Nineties, Nirvana burst through on MTV with their video for “Smells like Teen Spirit.” But, for those of us who came of age in the mid- to late-Seventies, we have a mixed bag. For some people, it was the sounds of disco, through the artistry of Chic or Donna Summer, while others fell for the hard rock thing through Kiss or classic rock with Journey, Foreigner, Boston, Styx, et. al. Some of us were struck by the Ramones, Sex Pistols or The Clash on a punk level, or The Police, Talking Heads or Devo for new wave.
Then, there was me. I loved hard rock, dance musics, new wave, punk and all the rest. Yet, no one artist really stuck out to me, until I heard a song on the radio in 1974. The song? “Killer Queen” by the English band Queen. At that moment, I heard within a three-to-four minute song everything that I enjoyed about music. I loved the cheekiness of the band, men who were so comfortable in their own skin that they could play around with sexual identity definitions, as well as making music with a huge sense of humor. Immediately, I got exactly what Queen was all about, so I became the biggest Queen fan during the years leading up to the appearance of Prince. While many of my friends were put-off by the band’s Freddie Mercury’s apparent sexual orientation, I found his stage presence absolutely amusing. When I was young, my mother was working on her master’s degree in art and would often take me to her college classes. Of course, I met many effeminate men, but it never was an issue to me as they treated me with great respect. Therefore, Queen never was as off-putting to me as they were to many of my friends.
Today, a movie is being released about Freddie Mercury and the rest of the band Queen, guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor and bassist John Deacon. We live in much different times within society, so Queen’s shtick may seem tame today, but back in the Seventies, they were Elton John on steroids. Hopefully, the man playing Freddie will be able to pull off one of the most difficult rock legends. I have high hopes of a great movie, but they are tempered by the fact that movies about modern rock artists or athletes are usually hokey. My main example of the silly is the Mark Wahlberg/Jennifer Aniston vehicle Rock Star. And, Freddie, my friends, continues to reign as bigger than life.
So, in honor of one of my first favorite artists of all-time, I would like to present a list of what I consider to be Queen’s 10 Most Innovative Songs. I hope this gets you ready for the movie this weekend!
- “Bohemian Rhapsody” (A Night at the Opera, 1975). Was there any doubt? Take a ballad opening, segue into an opera middle and end with heavy metal, and you think it would be a mess. Wrong! It’s heavenly!
- “Somebody to Love” (A Day at the Races, 1976). How do the boys follow up “Rhapsody”? How about some black gospel music? That’s exactly what “Somebody to Love” was all about. Need I see anymore? Nope!
- “Killer Queen” (Sheer Heart Attack, 1974). Before this song, Queen seemed to be on the verge of becoming a glam-version of Led Zeppelin, at least, until “Killer Queen” was released. How, Queen had their own sound that made them rise above the rest.
- “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions” (News of the World, 1977). Sporting events were NEVER the same again. A team wins a championship, and “Champions” will be blared through the speakers. Then “Rock You” is constantly used to fire up a crowd at various crucial moments during a game. Although these songs were signs of their immense egos, they are now used for sports teams’ successes.
- “Another One Bites the Dust” (The Game, 1980). In 1978, The Rolling Stones went disco with their brilliant “Miss You.” Fast-forward to 1980, and Queen goes funk with “Another One Bites the Dust”. The critics blast them, while the public buys millions of copies of the single. And, the rest is history.
- “Under Pressure (with David Bowie)” (Hot Space, 1982). Can you believe that this song NEVER made the American Top 20? I’m not kidding! That fact continues to blow my mind. You have two of the greatest artists of all-time coming together to create a very important single, and it can’t break the Top 20 here, while we made Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” number one for nine weeks at the same time. And, then Vanilla Ice stole the melody and went to number one with his crappy “Ice, Ice Baby.” Go figure!
- “Radio Ga Ga” (The Works, 1984). The band had the backs up against the wall after the commercial disaster of Hot Space, when they released a song that actually bridged the gap between the Seventies and Eighties, musically speaking. This is a fantastic single that introduced Queen to the MTV generation.
- “Bicycle Race” (Jazz, 1978). Not so much a song as a musical and lyrical collage. No one had ever attempted this forerunner to the whole post-punk movement. And, today’s indie kids should go back, listen to this song and learn from it.
- “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” (The Game, 1980). This was released during the heady days of new wave, during a time when artists were looking forward and backwards for inspiration at the same time. This rockabilly cut appeared two-to-three years before the Stray Cats and other rockabilly wannabes made a brief appearance in the early-Eighties. Plus, no one could imitate Elvis Presley as Freddie could.
- “Now I’m Here” (Sheer Heart Attack, 1974). Okay, on record, this is a very good hard rock song. But, when it was played live, this song took on a whole new life, from the illusion of Freddie standing on both sides of the stage at the beginning of the song to the way the band wails throughout. In concert, the theatricality of the song became very apparent.
From 1973 through Freddie Mercury’s death, Queen was one of the most popular bands in the world. Through the intervening years, Queen’s management has done a fantastic job of keeping the band in the public’s consciousness. Queen is my Beatles, for the impact they made on my life. In my humble opinion, these ten songs represent Queen’s most important songs that led them in becoming one of the world’s most cherished bands. Viva la Freddie Mercury! And, viva la Queen!